Anyway You Slice It…

On a recent car trip I listened to the audio version of Malcolm Gladwell’s newish book Blink and emerged at my destination with a few of leg cramps – and a broader vocabulary. Gladwell is the writer who caused a sensation with his first book, The Tipping Point. Now he has enriched our lexicon with the term thin-slicing.

Gladwell says that people who have perfected the art of thin-slicing have developed the ability to filter “the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.” Or as a scientist might put out, they are skilled at receiving the signal and filtering out the noise.

In Blink, Gladwell explains how this phenomenon works – leading to both good and bad results. For example, he describes the scene that unfolded when several independent art experts instantly detected a fake sculpture despite the fact that staff at a major museum had examined it thoroughly and pronounced it the real McCoy. And he explains why Warren Harding, a man of limited abilities, was able to rise to the level of U.S. President. Gladwell also shares a quote about Harding that is sure to amuse any speechwriter. Harding’s speeches, he says, were once described “as an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea.”

But, back to the idea of thin slicing. In a very real sense, that term describes an important part of your job as a speech or presentation writer. It’s up to you to get to the heart of the matter and explain why and how it has a bearing on the issue or problem at hand.

Overload listeners with detail and extraneous information and they will become bored and zone out. Carefully craft only the most salient facts and arguments and you will keep them engaged. The difference is in how you ‘slice’ it.